Two air forces re-form an 80 Squadron together

In a significant move for allied air capability, the Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Air Force have re-formed their respective 80 Squadrons.

CAPTIONRoyal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton (left) and Australia’s Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman shake hands at the 80 Squadron re-formation ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Story by Flight Lieutenant Rachael Blake. Photos by USAF Samuel King Jr.

The occasion was marked with a dual squadron parade and re-formation ceremony, attended by Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman and Warrant Officer of the Air Force Ralph Clifton, at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, United States, on 15 April.

80 Squadron represents the transition of the Australia Canada United Kingdom F-35 Reprogramming Laboratory (ACURL) capability into an integrated, operationally relevant squadron that will continue serving the world’s most advanced strike fighter jets – the F-35 Lightning II.

Air Marshal Chipman Australia’s partnership with allied nations was of utmost importance.

“Together, we must adapt to meet the challenges of the future, leveraging opportunities for collaboration and cooperation,” he said.

Royal Navy Commander Chris Wilcox, Officer Commanding RAF 80 Squadron, acknowledged the importance of re-forming the two historic units in RAF and RAAF.

“Officially we will be two squadrons, but our early years of F-35 reprogramming have seen us grow into an harmonious and prolific relationship, and as such, we will be proud to share just one name,” Commander Wilcox said.

Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Rich Knighton underlined how the F-35 warfighting capability in Europe and the Indo Pacific was dependent on how well the specialist personnel at 80 Squadron continued to ‘sharpen the spear’ in their work together in Florida.

“A critical part of our strength comes from how effectively and synergistically we can operate our fifth-generation capabilities,” Air Chief Marshal Knighton said.

“Co-location of the whole F-35 reprogramming enterprise at Eglin AFB provides a unique opportunity to integrate with our closest F-35 partners to the fullest extent.

“It’s an opportunity that wouldn’t exist if we were at home alone.”

The effort of re-raising RAAF’s 80 Squadron and RAF’s 80 Squadron has been four years in the making.

Air Marshal Chipman said the Australian journey from the ACURL F-35A mission-data team into an operational support squadron held profound importance.

“I am proud of how the team has grown to support global exercises and operations, providing first-class, responsive operational support to frontline warfighters,” Air Marshal Chipman said.

“It signifies that the people and the specialist work they do, is operationally relevant – fostering unit identity and aviator pride.”

Warrant Officer of RAAF 80 Squadron Warrant Officer Sean Bell described ACURL as a unique force element, comprising a multi-faceted RAAF, RAF, Royal Navy and US workforce.

“We are a fully blended unit in terms of three nations of three military services supported by a US-government and prime-contractor workforce all interacting as one team.

“We are also planning for the Royal Canadian Air Force to join us over the next four years,” Warrant Officer Bell said.

“It certainly makes for a challenging but rewarding workplace, knowing that our mission data products are supporting both Australian and UK F-35 operations.”

At the re-formation ceremony, Wing Commander Matthew Rapson, Commanding Officer RAAF 80 Squadron, commented on how the team would manage future challenges and opportunities.

“Remaining true to our vision of operationally responsive reprogramming, while navigating significant transitions and breaking down barriers to address our challenges, can only be achieved through what got us to this point – enduring successful collaboration within our enterprise underpinned with trust, dedication, cooperation and transparency, driven by innovation and a commitment to our people who will bring about this transformation,” Wing Commander Rapson said.

CAPTIONRoyal Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force members stand in formation.

He described the support of the United States Air Force in enabling the squadron’s mission and highlighted opportunities for collaboration.

“Our capabilities will undergo a series of essential, complex upgrades to remain in lockstep with the collective F-35 modernisation while also introducing enhanced software tools critical to our mission,” Wing Commander Rapson said.

Air Marshal Chipman touched on the Pacific legacy behind RAAF’s 80 Squadron badge, which shows a large owl clutching two lightning bolts in its claws.

“The sooty owl, found across eastern Australia, is a formidable and silent predator and, the owl is also a universal symbol of wisdom and strategy,” Air Marshal Chipman said.

“Lightning bolts symbolise the enabling capability of mission data, allowing the F-35 to operate within the electromagnetic spectrum.

“Together, these two images perfectly embody the readiness of the squadron’s mission and motto, ‘Strike True’, and also reflect the unit’s commitment to precision and accuracy in all they do.”







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